India will decide on Thursday whether to send its foreign secretary for a scheduled bilateral dialogue in Islamabad after Pakistan claimed to have launched a crackdown on the banned Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) group, blamed for the terrorist attack on the Pathankot air base.
Foreign secretary S Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmed Chowdhury are to meet on January 15. But the talks plunged into uncertainty after India sought “prompt and decisive action” by Pakistan based on “actionable intelligence” and evidence gathered in the air base that the JeM, which staged the 2001 Parliament attack, was involved.
The JeM was blamed for the rare and brazen attack on an Indian military installation outside Jammu and Kashmir, which killed seven soldiers and threatened to undermine improving relations with Pakistan.
It came just a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise stopover in Pakistan on premier Nawaz Sharif’s birthday, hailed as a diplomatic coup that displayed New Delhi’s political intent to meaningfully engage with its neighbour.
Earlier on December 9, Sushma Swaraj became the first Indian foreign minister to visit Pakistan since 2012. She met Prime Minister Sharif on the sidelines of a conference on Afghanistan, the third bilateral engagement at the top level in less than 10 days after an impromptu and brief meeting between Modi and his Pakistani counterpart in Paris on November 30.
Her visit followed talks between national security advisers of both nations in Bangkok, three months after cancelling a similar appointment. A joint statement issued in Bangkok said: “Discussions covered peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, and other issues, including tranquility along the LoC (Line of Control that divides the two counties).”
These engagements gave a positive thrust to the scheduled meeting of the foreign secretaries, until Pathankot happened.
India demanded immediate arrest of JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar and some of his aides, although reports from Pakistan said on Wednesday the militant leader was taken into preventive custody.
Azhar’s brother Mufti Abdur Rauf and his brother-in-law Ashfaq Ahmed were detained along with him on Monday, Reuters quoted two unnamed officials as saying.
The report of Azhar’s detention came soon after Pakistan said it wants to send a special team to India to investigate the attack on the air base.
A statement from the Pakistani prime minister’s office said: “Considerable progress has been made in the investigations being carried out against terrorist elements reportedly linked to the Pathankot incident.”
Based on initial investigations in Pakistan and the information provided by India, several individuals belonging to JeM have been taken into custody and the organisation’s offices are being traced and sealed, said the statement.
Azhar formed the JeM after being freed from an Indian prison with two other militants in exchange for an Indian Airlines flight hijacked to Kandahar in 2000. The group was banned in 2002 but continues to be active in several areas, including Punjab province and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Following a high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the government announced it had also begun tracing and sealing the offices of the JeM.
The Sharif government was apparently spurred to act following pressure from the US and India as well as salvage a planned meeting of the foreign secretaries on January 15.
India has linked the talks to action against perpetrators of the Pathankot attack.
Pakistan’s actions were reminiscent of its moves in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, carried out by a 10-member squad of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terror outfit that left 166 people dead.
Mounting pressure from the world community prompted the government to place LeT founder Hafiz Saeed and other leaders under house arrest and sealed offices of the outfit and its front organisation, Jamaat-ud-Dawah. But within six months, they were freed and the LeT resumed its activities under a changed name.
Back then, Islamabad turned down New Delhi’s demand it dispatch the head of its intelligence agency, the ISI, to India.
(With agency inputs)